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Investigation report into MD-83 crash that killed 153 released

March 14, 2017   by Jon Gambrell - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The pilots of a Nigerian airliner failed to follow emergency procedures and didn’t land after one of the plane’s two engines lost power only minutes into the flight, according to a government investigation into the June 2012 crash that killed 153 on board and others on the ground.

A 210-page report by Nigeria’s Accident Investigation Bureau into the crash of the Dana Air MD-83 renews long-standing questions over aviation safety in Africa’s most populous nation. The pilots, apparently fearing government oversight, pressed on with the flight from Abuja, the capital, to Lagos after losing power to the first engine 17 minutes into the hour-long flight.

On the plane’s approach to Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport, the plane lost power to the second engine. A cause for the engine failures wasn’t specified in the report, though it mentioned another incident in which a Dana Air MD-83 lost engine power over improperly positioned fuel lines.

“If the crew had maintained high altitude as suggested by the co-pilot, they would have had height advantage over Lagos for better speed and manoeuvring to enhance their chances of survival during the emergency landing,” the report said.

The plane, loaded with 18,000 pounds of fuel, crashed in Lagos’ Iju-Ishaga neighbourhood. A massive fire engulfed the aircraft. Several passengers died of carbon monoxide poisoning, suggesting “that the victims were alive for some time in the fire that probably followed the crash,” the report said. Six others on the ground died in the crash, the report said, contradicting previous reports that 10 had been killed.

Emergency responders and journalists at the scene found chaos, as firefighters didn’t have water to put out the blaze for hours. The report released Monday refers to “massive looting” that took place as well.

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The report quotes former pilots for Dana Air as saying the airline had “the habit of not entering defects in the technical log book.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Dana Air said it immediately implemented all safety instructions offered by Nigerian authorities. It said it couldn’t have known about fuel line problems on its MD-83s as “there is no way Dana engineers can inspect the fuel lines once the engine has been coupled together and assembled.”

The airline did not answer questions on allegations it had lax safety standards ahead of the crash. It said it has “invested heavily in training and retraining crew and ground staff.”

The crash was the worst airline disaster in Nigeria since Sept. 27, 1992, when a military transport plane crashed into a swamp shortly after takeoff from Lagos and killed all 163 people on board. The worst air disaster in Nigeria happened in 1973, when a Jordanian Boeing 707 crashed at Kano’s international airport and killed 176 people.

Air travel represents the quickest way for those who can afford it to travel across Nigeria, a nation twice the size of California with decrepit and dangerous roads. However, experts say Nigerian aviation authorities remain overworked and safety regulations are laxly enforced in a nation where bribery is endemic.

Infrastructure also suffers. The international airport at Abuja is closed for six weeks for repairs to the runway, which experts say has been in shocking disrepair.